By Kevin Burke, LSW
December 8th, 2016 – Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary
In 1981, 16 year old Mirjana Soldo was living with her family in Sarajevo in the former Yugoslavia. She took a train to spend the summer with relatives in the tiny village of Medjugorje.
On June 24th, feast day of St John the Baptist, Mirjana strolled with her friend Invanka in the late afternoon. They saw a mysterious woman with a baby in her arms on Podbrdo Hill. Soon they learned her identity – she was the Virgin Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus. Mirjana and five other children would experience apparitions of the Blessed Mother each day at the nearby parish of St James rectory.
The children were both in awe and overwhelmed by this experience.
“My heart whirled with fear and wonder…my heart was in such turmoil that I could hardly identify one emotion before another took over. “Pinch yourself,” I thought. “You must be dreaming!”
Fear and wonder were natural reactions to such a supernatural encounter. But they had other reason to be anxious. They were entering dangerous and complicated waters in communist controlled Yugoslavia.
In her autobiography My Heart Will Triumph Mirjana shares about her family life in the city of Sarajevo. The account reveals she grew up in a stable and loving family and matured into a happy and well adjusted young woman. Mirjana was not prone to unusual religious fervor, or exaggerated emotional displays.
Yet after the events of June 24th 1981, the young woman’s life was turned upside down.
Life Under Communism
The citizens of Yugoslavia, as they went about their day to day lives, were well aware of the power of the communist government to harass, hurt and even murder those they felt threatened the regime.
In communist Yugoslavia, religious books were practically contraband, so our knowledge of miracles was limited to the measured homilies of our priests who were always aware that government spies lurked in the pews. Anything misconstrued as an attack on the regime, the priests knew, could send them to prison—or worse.
On June 29th 1981 as word spread of the heavenly visitations, the children were summoned to the Citluk police station for interrogation. An officer inquiring about visionary Jakov, who was not with the other children, asked Mirjana:
“Where’s that little shit?”
“Jakov is only 10 years old,” I said. “Leave him alone…”
“You lying bitch,” growled the policeman. The interrogation went on like that for hours.
Failing to get the children to recount their experiences, the officers stuffed them in the back of an ambulance for a rough and painful ride to Mostar hospital.
When they arrived the officer sneered, “Get used to this place…it might be your new home when the doctors declare you insane.”
The police locked them in a dark, windowless room. The air was cold, damp and foul as described by Mirjana.
“I thought someone was sleeping on the table, but as my vision adjusted I realized the person was dead. Scanning the room, I saw more bodies.”
They were in the hospital morgue.
Next they were examined and questioned by a cold and threatening physician:
“You know,” he said, “we have a special place for the insane.” 
This physician then locked the children in a ward with severely mentally ill patients. The children huddled together terrified fearing they would never be released.
It is important to keep in mind the methods of Eastern European communists to control their populations. All manner of diabolical physical and psychological torture, personality destruction and abuse were used to control and punish those that were seen as threatening the power of the state to form the new communist man and society.
Turning Up the Heat
Thankfully the children were later released but as news spread across Medugorje and beyond about the apparitions, the government went on the offensive. The visionaries’ relatives were threatened with imprisonment and the children with confinement in mental institutions if they continued to “perpetuate this religious hoax.”
The government declared a state of emergency in Medugorje and the military with soldiers and attack dogs entered the village. Federal police took over the investigation of the apparitions and the interrogations of the visionaries became lengthier and more intense.
The following exchange with a federal officer is telling. It reveals the spiritual peace as well as the character and tenacity of young Mirjana.
The communist official pulled his handgun off its holster and laid it on the table between him and Mirjana:
“Confess,” he said… “Come clean,” he said glancing at the gun. “You didn’t see anything.”… “Now give me the truth.”
Mirjana looked at him straight in the eyes:
“The truth is that I see Our Lady, and I’m willing to die for her.”
If the visionaries were adults, they would have found themselves locked away in some dark prison cell and likely tortured and killed. The fact they were children was a saving grace. The government, as corrupt as they were, did not want to be seen as imprisoning children. This did not prevent government agents from terrorizing the children and their families.
You can read more in My Heart Will Triumph about the ongoing harassment and oppression of Mirjana and her family, priests of the village and others by the communist authorities in the early days of the apparitions. Mirjana and her family as well as some of the clergy of that village paid a high price for being faithful to the mission entrusted to them by the Blessed Mother.
The Fruit of Forgiveness
One of the many beautiful fruits of the spiritual events in Medugorje is the cultivation of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Mirjana shares many years later:
“A few years ago a man came to my door. He looked vaguely familiar, but I did not recognize him at first. He seemed reluctant to speak and he avoided eye contact.”
“Can I help you” I said.
“Please forgive me.”
“I’m one of the policemen who interrogated you back in 1981. I’m really sorry for what we put you through.” 
The policeman shared with Mirjana a tape of one of their interrogation sessions and he played a portion of the recordings as they both sat and listened. As I reflected on my own experience in abortion and trauma healing ministry, I saw this exchange as a healing ritual of confession and closure for the officer…but also for Mirjana.
Mirjana shared how this encounter led her to recall the events and feelings of those early days of the apparitions. She was struck by the voice of that previously timid teenage girl on the tape who spoke with such confidence and with no fear to her interrogator; truly a gift of faith.
She’s Just Like You and Me
I was deeply moved by Mirjana’s very personal account of the apparitions, our Lady’s messages and mission, and the personal suffering of Mirjana and her family. I now see the apparitions through a different lens.
Prior to reading her account I remained open but skeptical at times given some of the criticisms of the apparitions and challenges to the authenticity of the events of Medjugorje.
After reading her story, I believe very strongly that the experience of the children is authentic and true. As with any powerful spiritual event or movement over many years involving human beings, there will be controversy and confusion – at times even scandal. This has been true from the time of the Apostles. 
What about the Ten Secrets?
Mirjana does touch on the ten secrets entrusted to the visionaries by our Blessed Mother. These are all future events in Medugorje and the world. Mirjana is careful to present the secrets without sensationalism. While some involve difficult and painful events, (some which can be mitigated by prayer,) ultimately they are properly seen in the context of the overall mission of our Blessed mother as a message of hope in the coming victory of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary over Satan and his agenda. Mirjana mentions in her autobiography that the events in Medugorje are a fulfillment of the apparitions of Fatima Portugal in 1916.
The information In My Heart Will Triumph about the secrets compels us to return to a fervent practice of our faith that features fasting, daily Rosary, and frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. This is a special time of repentance and conversion so we can establish God’s Kingdom in our hearts and share the transforming love of God in our families and communities. It is also a time of preparation for that encounter with the Lord at the end of our lives, but also for the events that will unfold in the world in the years to come.
Mirjana is now married and lives in Medjugorje with her husband Marko Soldo and their two daughters. Despite her very intimate experience of the Blessed Mother, and knowledge of the ten secrets entrusted to the visionaries, she leads a normal marriage and family life. The book reveals that despite her very unusual vocation, she has the same responsibilities, joys and sorrows that we all encounter each day. (With that said, her personal description of the visual and emotional experience of being in the presence of Mary is both fascinating and moving.)
Our Lady’s Words about Children Lost to Abortion
Along with my wife Theresa Burke, Ph.D., I am co-founder of Rachel’s Vineyard Ministries for men and women who long for emotional and spiritual healing after abortion.
One of the more moving parts of the Rachel’s Vineyard weekend program, are those meditations and exercises where the humanity of the unborn child and their unique dignity and identity engages the heart, mind and soul of the participants. This is an essential emotional and spiritual gift of this powerful and very effective retreat process developed by Theresa.
Women and men can despair when they come to face their role in the destruction of their unborn children and struggle to accept God’s forgiveness and find peace and closure. The spiritual reality that their children are alive in the Lord is so important to recovery from this loss. As St John Paul II declared in Evangelium Vitae, “To the same Father and to his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child.”
This was reinforced for me when I read this passage from Mirjana’s book where she asks the blessed mother what happened to the souls of abortion victims after their death. The blessed Mother’s responded:
“They are with me in Heaven.” (Pg 108)
A Gift that will Keep on Giving
Reading My Heart Will Triumph was like sitting down with a good friend and being riveted by a fascinating and compelling story. Mirjana’s personal experience and journey of faith, the messages of Mary and the passages on the ten secrets left me with a sense that while we are perpetually distracted by the unending flow of news, entertainment and information that saturate our daily lives – there is a powerful spiritual drama unfolding in Medugorje.
God through Jesus and His Mother will perhaps manifest their presence in unprecedented ways in this tiny village and throughout the world in the years to come.
But on a deeper and more immediate level, it moved me to have a greater appreciation for the power of the rosary, cultivated an increased awareness of the presence of Mary in my life, and a renewed hunger for prayer. As a Catholic, it has impressed upon me the importance of regular confession and receiving of Christ in the Eucharist.
What a precious and invaluable gift to receive in this advent season.
I encourage you to consider this book as a Christmas gift to yourself, or for a friend or family member that would be blessed to read such an inspirational and moving story.
I close with a message of our Lady Queen of Peace from November 25th, 2015:
Dear children… be carriers of peace and hope in this restless world where Satan is attacking and tempting in every way. Little children, be firm in prayer and courageous in faith. I am with you and intercede before my Son Jesus for all of you…”
On this feast of the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother, let us pray with Mary that she will form us – so that we can fully surrender our hearts, minds and souls as never before to her son Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
 Mirjana Soldo, (Catholic Shop, August 2016), page 15.
 Ibid, page 16
 Ibid, page 59-60.
 Ibid, pages 80-81.
 Ibid, pages 87-88.
 I will respect whatever decision the Catholic Church reaches after they complete their current ongoing assessment of the phenomena.